Restore Biodiversity to Your Garden
As we move toward cooler days, what do you notice taking place in your garden? Do you still have enough flowers to feed the bees and hummingbirds? Which crops are struggling and which are thriving? Do you see signs of life in the soil, like earthworms and fungi? These questions can help you assess whether your garden might benefit from more biodiversity.
Biodiversity is essential to the health of large ecosystems, allowing organisms great and small to find adequate food, shelter, and water year after year. But biodiversity benefits gardeners too. A garden with diverse plantings attracts beneficial insects as well as birds, bats, and sometimes amphibians that keep pest insects in check. To thrive, most garden plants need soil teeming with microorganisms and mycorrhizal fungi, as well as earthworms, sowbugs, and other soil-dwelling critters. Wildlife, native plants, open-pollinated and heirloom vegetable varieties all have essential roles to play in a healthy home garden.
Late summer and early fall can reveal a lot about the biodiversity of your garden. Weak and spindly plants may indicate depleted, lifeless soil. If you haven’t seen as many hummingbirds and bumblebees in the past few weeks, try incorporating more late-flowering varieties into your landscaping. And if your vegetables are going to seed, remember that the seeds produced by hybrids will not produce plants that are “true to type”; so, if you want to start saving your own seed, make a plan to grow more open-pollinated and heirloom varieties next season. Open-pollinated and heirloom plants allow seed-savers to preserve regionally-adapted, diverse crops that perform well in challenging times.
The good news is that making your garden more biodiverse is a lot of fun! You’ll get to enjoy unique plants, amazing flavors, and increase the overall health of your garden. Read the tips below to see why now is a great time to add more biodiversity to the garden.
Protect Your Soil.
If you have bare patches in the soil, get them covered as soon as possible. Bare soil quickly dries out and becomes inhospitable to beneficial organisms like earthworms and mycorrhizal networks that help plants access important nutrients. So, don’t let that soil stay bare! Instead, protect the soil from erosion by mulching or by growing a fall-sown cover crop like Oats and Field Peas, Winter Rye, Tillage Radish (great for hardpan soils), or Hairy Vetch. These plants will provide a protective mulch through winter and will improve tilth and access to nutrients when turned under in springtime. Read more about growing fall-sown cover crops here.
Build Your Seed Supply.
Open-pollinated and heirloom varieties can be saved year after year, which means you can resow these seeds knowing they will have the same characteristics of the parent plant. Over successive generations, these seeds also become “regionally-adapted,” developing greater resilience to pests and other stressors in the local environment. By growing open-pollinated varieties, gardeners and seed-savers help to ensure food security for everyone, not just themselves: an over-reliance on monocultures can leave us susceptible to major crop failures leading to global food shortages. Crop diversity is an important failsafe when best laid plans go awry.
Shopping “off-season” seed sales is a great way to begin building your home seed supply without breaking the bank. Stored in cool, dry conditions, most seeds will germinate just fine the following year! For up to 25% off select seeds, shop our Biggest Sale of the Year. You’ll find seeds to sow now like Little Gem Lettuce and Johnny Jump Up, as well as seeds to sow next spring! Read more about storing your seeds in this blog post.
Grow More Flowers.
To support pollinators and other beneficial insects, as well as hummingbirds, grow more flowers! Plan to have something always blooming in the garden, starting in late winter. Yes, late winter! Honeybees and ground-dwelling bees, as well as hover flies, will forage among early bloomers like Winter Aconite and Crocus. Fall-Planted Bulbs flower anywhere from late-winter into early summer; for an overview of seasonal bloom times, read this post. For the best selection of bulbs, pre-order now for shipping at planting time in October.
Of course, plenty of annual flowers bloom in summertime, but what about late summer and fall? For later-flowering varieties, consider succession sowing Calendula, Borage, Cosmos, and Bachelor’s Button in summer or plant Torch Tithonia, Spider Flower, and Dahlias in spring. Other annual varieties that bloom in late summer include Snapdragons, Marigolds, and Zinnias.
Fall- and winter-sown flowers include: Poppies, Blazing Star, Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Johnny Jump Up, Milkweed and Butterfly Weed. Fall is also the perfect time to start a mini wildflower meadow! An assortment of wildflowers is one of the easiest and best ways to invite more biodiversity to your garden over the long term. Winter temps will cold-stratify these seeds allowing them to germinate in springtime.
For an “instant” meadow choose use one of our Meadow Seed Shakers to sow 100 square feet; simply, clear the area of weeds, rake the top layer of soil, and use the pourable spout to shake out your seeds. Lightly tamp seeds down with your palm and then wait for the seedlings to emerge in spring. Thin seedlings to give each plant enough room to mature. These perennial and native varieties will need very little maintenance compared to annuals, plus they’ll create essential habitat and food for a variety of wildlife throughout the season. Try Bird Lover’s, Bee-Friendly, or Shady Meadow Mix for fall sowing and save Colorscape for spring. For more wildflowers, visit our full collection of Flower Mixes.
Fall is also a great time to establish native trees and shrubs as habitat and food for overwintering birds. Use these larger plants as the central focal point or foundation for a "plant community" that includes herbaceous perennials, grasses, and groundcovers. A plant community provides refuge and habitat for diverse species, from ground beetles to birds. For a national database of native plants, try this tool provided by the Audobon Society. For a list of natives for New York, read this fact sheet provided by the Department of Conservation.
- Add a birdbath or water dish to the garden and keep it filled with fresh water.
- Pile old logs, branches, and leaves, to provide habitat.
- Compost in a pile or create a "walking compost" right in your garden bed.
- Add birdhouses and bat houses to invite these natural predators of pest insects.
- Practice a "no dig" approach to gardening. We love Charles Dowding's tips.
- Save your open-pollinated seeds to share with neighbors, friends, and family.